EVART – A large group of people took a short hike down the Evart stretch of the Pere Marquette Rail to Trail, headed east from The Depot, crossed the Muskegon River bridge, and gathered to mark a festive reopening of the local Rail To Trail - now completed as the longest east-west paved trails system in the state.

On time and on budget, work on the Rail to Trail was wrapped up a couple weeks back and representatives of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, and state and local government joined to celebrate the linking of widely dispersed communities by a paved recreational trail.

It was a good day, according to all those attending.

“This project completion is a great thing for the City of Evart,” noted city manager Zack Scakas. “The paving work will open up many more opportunities for recreation all along the trail, and really create new economic benefit for communities along the way as well.”

Scakas reported the city had just wrapped up discussions and meetings with an eye to renewing the community’s Recreation Master Plan.

The Rails to Trails system was a big part of the discussion focus.

“The trail has a prominent place in our recreation plan,” he pointed out. “It connects Riverside West and Riverside East parks.

“People can us this trail to access both parks and then move up and down the trails - in effect from Big Rapids to Clare.

“We are starting to see more and more walkers and bike riders out on the trail each day.

“As folks learn of this opportunity, they will better learn what our U.S. 10 communities have to offer as well.”

During the ceremony, Todd Neiss, project coordinator with the DNR, noted the completion of the Evart-Farwell Rails to Trails project was a great example of cooperative effort up and down the trail - and in Lansing as well.

“A number of state departments and community governments worked very well together to get this project rolling and moving along,” said Neiss.

“A lot of people deserve a lot of thanks - including the Pere Marquette Snowmobile Club which helps so much in maintaining the trails both in summer and winter.

“There was a lot of cooperative planning and work that went in to making this project a success.”

Bob Ranck, a project engineer with MDOT, was very pleased with the effort.

“This is a great accomplishment,” said Ranck. “We’ve closed a gap - a unpaved stretch of trail that slowed down recreational development between Reed City and Farwell.

“For years we’ve been looking at the 83 mile section of trail from Midland to Reed City.

“For 10 years, we’ve been planning and working. Now there is just a little gap in Clare to close and this portion of the Rails to Trails project will be completed.

“There will be continuity all along the trail - one long paved stretch of recreational trail.”

Ranck noted the entire paving project, (a program that has lasted three years), has cost about $3 million with some funding coming from the American Recovery Reinvestment Act funds, (ARRA.)

Oher funding for the trail enhancement came from both federal and state sources.

Patty Johnson, a MDOT design engineer out of Cadillac, told those gathered about plans to continue work west of Reed City, a program that would see the Rail To Trail paved first through Baldwin and lake County, and then further to Ludington.

“We want to continue work,’ she said. “We’re looking west from Reed City to Baldwin.

“We will be seeking funding to help complete this portion of trailway up to Baldwin, and then create a plan that is workable west of Baldwin although the railroad is still functioning in that area.”

Melora Theunick, director of Evart’s Local development Finance Authority, said she was excited about the potential for economic development the Rail to Trail system held for her community, and communities along the trail.

“We hope this will be a real economic advantage for our community,” she said. “We’ve already seen an increase in trail traffic this summer. We expect there will be much more to come.

“All the cities and villages along the trail, and the state of Michigan, will benefit from recreational systems such as this.”

State representatives from districts along the recently completed stretch of trail were on hand to share the day with members of their communities.

Rep. Joel Johnson and Rep. Phil Potvin both took the opportunity to salute the efforts of those involved in the project, and welcome the new development in their respective districts.

“It’s great to see what’s going on along this trail,” said Johnson. “This is a great example of partnership and cooperation between state departments and communities all along the trail.

“This trail will not only promote tourism and create new sources of local commerce, but it will also encourage a healthier lifestyle and family orientated activity.

“Things are being done along this trail that will really benefit all of us.”

Rep. Potvin, of the 102nd District, also noted the fine effort and great benefits the newly paved and recently reopened trail had for his district.

“This trail is really a great example of how we hope to reinvent Michigan - with new opportunities to enjoy, play and recreate in their neighborhood and around the state.

“This paved trail is a great way o encourage family recreation, and to make our communities more inviting and welcoming.

“This is a great example of Pure Michigan.

“I’d like to thank everyone involved for pulling together and making this plan a reality.”

Following a blessing of the trail and those involved in the project by Father Joe Fix or Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Evart, the ribbon was cut officially reopening the trail to recreational use.